Orwellian Althing? (Gary Robinson)
The recent announcement of the Althing Debating Society’s winter programme has set me thinking – what if the Althing was run like the council?
Clearly there would need to be some changes and despite the many obvious analogies with George Orwell’s book Animal Farm I’ll try to resist the temptation to compare.
First off, the Althing committee would be required to appoint some mandarins, people who could be trusted to speak authoritatively and read at great length from reports that members cannot be trusted to read for themselves. They would also require a dog (sorry, I promised no Orwell), a policeman to ensure order in committee, something which used to be the domain of the chairman. And they would need to make some appointments to the committee – you know, a few good people upon whose backing the chairman could rely – clergymen perhaps, definitely not “random” peasants. And last but by no means least, some consultants. In spite of the crisis in this year’s hom bakes budget that threatens to bring down this great institution imminently, we must pay them to gaze into their crystal balls – lest we shall never know what we might look like in 30 years’ time.
Now, to kick off the meeting, the chairman shall invite one of his mandarins to present his or her report. After being allowed to read from it at great length, questions may be asked of the mandarin by members. In a break from debating tradition members may only discuss the affirmative, which is the recommendation in the mandarin’s report. The chairman will deal firmly with anyone deviating from the affirmative and the policeman may also be invited to intervene at length, reading chapter and verse from his new rulebook.
With this system in place, meetings tend to go on a bit, despite the somewhat light agendas and a lack of substance, so comfort breaks or indeed, meal breaks are to be expected.
However, once the chairman is convinced that his mandarin has suitably indoctrinated members, he’ll move the affirmative and be quickly seconded by the vice-chairman.
Now anyone who’s still awake and still has the will to live at this point may propose an amendment and if they’re lucky, speak to it. But only five minutes mind, for fear that you may undo some of the indoctrination.
Then comes the chairman’s favourite bit, the vote! This is where you find that in spite of putting forward the most plausible and eminently sensible amendment, you lose. Ah well, that’s democracy for you.
Obviously, the chairman will want to get word of this great victory out so that everyone shall know the good news, and that’s where the local media comes in. After years of only reporting the “bad news” from these meetings the local hacks have been relegated to a small table at the back of the room where they can’t see let alone hear what’s going on. But never mind, the chairman has his own tame one these days who’s only too happy to fill them in on any bits of good news they may have inadvertently missed.
Then comes the final insult, when the hom bakes are eventually brought out, the chairman has forbidden the assembled press people from indulging in his tea and biccies. “Serves them right,” he says, “besides, there’s a crisis in the hom bake budget that we have to do something about. Now leave us alone, we have a lot of work to do”.
By this time, it’s dark, cold and wet outside. I wonder where poor Snowball is and what of the great windmill idea? The consultants say it’s our only future …